Guatemala: one dead in anti-mine protests

Demonstrator Imer Boror, 19, was killed by police gunfire and two were wounded as indigenous protesters blocked entry points into Guatemala’s capital on Oct. 12, Dia de La Raza. Roads were also blocked at several other points around the country. Juana Mulul, leader of the “Day of Dignity and Resistance” protests, told AFP the direct action campaign “is purely in defense of Mother Earth and our territory.” After the violence, President Alvaro Colom agreed to appoint a special panel to meet with indigenous leaders to discuss their demands. Aparicio P├ęrez of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) said representatives would ask the government to cancel mining, hydroelectric and industrial concessions because “multinational companies are taking over natural resources, which have long been the source of life for rural families.” (AFP, Oct. 13)

Juan Tiney of the National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinator (CONIC), told the Cerigua agency that a solution is urgently needed to the crisis of food insecurity in the countryside. Daniel Pascual of the Maya Waqib Kej Coordination and Convergence told Cerigua that protest leaders demand an end to mineral concessions and mega-projects on indigenous lands, and the dropping of charges against local activists opposing these activities. He charged that Colom has not complied with commitments made in July to the community of San Juan Sacatep├ęquez, in the central department of Guatemala, rejecting the presence of the Cementos Progreso factory, and San Miguel Ixtahuac├ín in Huehuetenango,* rejecting the local Marlin gold mine. (ArgenPress, Oct. 13)

After hours of negotiations between indigenous leaders and Colom’s panel at the presidential palace Oct. 13, the president agreed to meet with protest leaders himself. The office of the Human Rights Prosecutor was brought in as mediator at the talks after the 14 indigenous representatives declared a hunger strike and occupation of the palace to press their demand for a meeting with Colom. Hundreds of campesinos backed up the leaders by staging a sit-in in at Plaza de la Constituci├│n. (Prensa Latina, Oct. 13)

Drought devastates countryside
On the same day as the protests, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) completed an emergency food distribution to help poor rural families battling the worst drought to hit Guatemala in 30 years. Since July, below average rainfall in parts of Zacapa, Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula, El Progreso, Jalapa, and Jutiapa departments has led to widespread crop failure, affecting the health and nutrition of families through the region, the group said. (ADRA, Oct. 13)

Police patrols attacked
In an unrelated development that also points to social breakdown in Guatemala, a series of armed attacks on National Civil Police patrols in poor districts of Guatemala City left two officers dead and three wounded Oct. 9. A grenade tossed at a police station failed to explode. Interior Minister Raul Velasquez said the attacks appeared to be retaliation by criminals, but did not point to a specific gang. He said the government will not be “intimidated.” Last month, four prison officials were shot to death in apparent retaliation for a crackdown on an extortion ring operating from behind bars. (EFE, AP, Oct. 8)

See our last posts on Guatemala, Central America and regional struggles against the mineral cartel.

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